Trinity XXIV: Panic First, Pray Later (St. Matthew 9:18-26)

Matt 9

We tend to panic first and pray later. When things aren’t going well, it is often our first instinct to panic. Though we should call upon God in every trouble, as the Second Commandment requires, this does not come naturally.  We often only turn to Him who is our only refuge and strength (Psa 46:1) after we’ve first tried everything else. We panic first, and pray later.

The ruler in today’s Holy Gospel had every reason to panic. His daughter had just died. The pain of a parent having to bury a child is unspeakable. St. Matthew does not dwell on this, but simply says, While [Jesus] was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before Him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live,” (Matthew 9:18).

To say things weren’t going the ruler’s way would be a massive understatement. When we find ourselves in difficult situations, we often respond in one of several ways. When we can fix the problem ourselves, we often try to do just that. When we can’t fix the problem, many live in denial or slip into despair.  The denial option is exemplified by the people who refuse to go to the doctor out of fear of getting bad news. In reality, this will likely bring death more quickly. The other response to insolvable problems is to give up hope. We often see this in the face of terminal diagnoses and at the death of loved ones.  The response of faith, however, does not try to fix our problems solely by our own reason or strength, nor does faith despair or live in denial.  The response of faith is one of hope. We see this at work in the ruler’s life, who, when confronted with an impossible problem, turned to Jesus.

If you ought to turn to Jesus in the face of the impossible, how much more, then, should you turn to Him when faced with lesser problems? After all, He speaks tenderly to you, saying, Come to Me, you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). Not only did the ruler turn to Jesus in the face of the impossible, so did the woman who had suffered from a 12-year discharge of blood. She came up behind Jesus and touched the fringe of His garment, saying to herself, If I only touch His garment, I will be made well (Matthew 9:21). I don’t know about you, but if I had any illness for 12 years, I’d be pretty panicked! And this woman had likely done her share of panicking, too.

What is it that causes you to panic? Why do you panic first and pray later? And why do you worry? Who of you, by worrying, can add a single hour to his life (Matthew 6:27)? Has not God been faithful? Has He not overcome sin, death, and the devil? Did He not save Israel from Her enemies by leading them through a sea as though it were a desert (Psa 106:9)? Why do you fear? Have you forgotten the Lord, your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth (Isa 51:9—13)? Did He not raise up the ruler’s daughter and heal the woman with the discharge of blood?

Instead, we often panic. When Jesus arrived at the ruler’s house, He saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion (Matthew 9:23). You all know the sort of commotion that surrounds funerals. Arrangements must be made shortly following death, even when the sense of loss is profound, as we would expect with the death of a child. There’s lots of planning to do, people to call, and services to plan. Traffic stops, literally, for funeral processions. You can only imagine the commotion surrounding the death of the ruler’s daughter. This is a far cry from the “Be Still, My Soul” that the Lord wants for you in every trouble.

So in comes Jesus, calmly and coolly, saying, Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping (Matthew 9:24). Take away the hearse, send back the pallbearers: the Lord of life is here. But how do the people respond? With laughter (Matthew 9:24).

Now you might not be so bold as to laugh in the face of Jesus, but then again, we have our own, more subtle ways of doing this. God says He made the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th, and what do we do? We laugh at the idea. Surely we know better than to believe in such fairy tales. We reprise the ancient serpent’s old question: did God really say He made the world in 6 days? And we come up with all sorts of theories to explain away what Genesis plainly teaches. You may not laugh in Jesus’ face the way the crowds did, but you don’t trust His Word the way you should. This is really the same thing as laughing in His face.

We doubt God’s ability to solve the insolvable, and when faced with lesser problems, we usually try to fix the problem ourselves. When we succeed, we like to give ourselves the credit for our hard work and ingenuity (cf. Deut 8:11-18) and often forget to give God the glory. If we really believed that God is Father Almighty, we would call upon Him in every trouble much more readily. Instead, we often rely on our own reason or strength to solve our problems, or that of other people. But as Psalm 118 (v.8) says: It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. That’s what the ruler did. That’s what the woman did.

Worry is a sign of unbelief. Where we trust in God’s goodness, we can say in any and every circumstance, “It is well with my soul.” In Philippians 4, St. Paul says, I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (v. 12).

Faith begets peace. The opposite of faith is worry. For those times when you’ve panicked first and prayed later, repent. But don’t think faith is some generic, abstract thing. We don’t have faith that God will keep us from suffering or that things will work out the way we want them to, we have faith in Christ crucified and risen. Just ask Jesus about how pleasant the cross was sometime. But still, He continued to trust, to have faith in God’s goodness, even when God forsook Him on the cross.

When things aren’t going well, remember God’s faithfulness from of old. Trust in His promises. Live by faith and not sight. Remember how He has overcome sin, death, and the devil for you. Remember how He led Israel through the sea on dry ground. Remember how He was willing to suffer the agony of the cross because of His great love for you. Remember how in Holy Baptism He has delivered you from the domain of darkness and transferred you to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Col 1:13). Eat and drink His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins; This do in remembrance of me (1 Cor 11:24-25).

Don’t panic first. Remember God’s goodness, that you may be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Col. 1:11-12).

Calling upon God doesn’t have to be some big, elaborate thing. It can be as simple as the woman with the blood flow, who came to Jesus very quietly from behind, not even saying a word. It can mean coming to Jesus publically and making your petitions known in the Divine Service. And remember that even when your prayers falter, Jesus’ prayers for you never do (Romans 8:34). Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6).

Soli Deo Gloria

+Rev. Eric Andersen
St. Matthew 19:18—26
The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Trinity, 2013
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